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Marriage, Family, and Race Relations 101

I knew there'd be trouble when I fell in love with a brown man. Well, black; black or African American are the two acceptable terms nowadays. But I always thought of him as brown. That's what I thought of when I looked at his skin, that it was the most beautiful brown that I had ever seen. This is not to say I'd never dated out of my race. I have, on plenty of occasions. But there's a point in life where you just want to stop making waves. I was at this point in my life when I met Chad. I had just made a promise to myself, that for the sake of my family, I would find some nice white man to settle down and marry.

Two months later I was asking Chad to marry me. If you ask me why, even today, I will tell you he is the best man I have ever met. That was something I recognized, even then. By the time I popped the question, I had already dealt with several stressful phone calls to my family explaining that I was absolutely sure that he was the one. To this my mother said, "Don't be surprised if I pray him right out of your life, not because he's black, but because he's just not right for you." Of course, she had only heard good things about him, other than that he was black, so I can only guess that she wasn't being totally honest with me. Well, time went by, my parents cooled off, and the wedding day approached. Mom and Dad asked if I was going to invite them and, hoping for any kind of a momentary truce with them, I quickly said, "Yes, of course."

Marriage, Family, and Race Relations 101

A month later they were on a plane from Memphis headed for the West Coast. Chad was going to get his Mom in Oakland, and I was going to pick my parents up at the Monterey airport. They pretty much showed up stiff-lipped and ready to disapprove, and I could pretty much tell that the only thing that was going to get me through the weekend was lots of support from my fiancee, who had been on a bachelor drinking binge the night before. And so far that day he hadn't been much help to me, to the point where I had already several times considered backing out of the whole thing. But we had sunk too much into it to back down, money, work, and commitment.

The next morning started early. We were supposed to go to the hotels and pick up our parents, who I had no energy to face. There were things to be done, and not very much time to do them in. Chad had an idea. "I'll go and get them," he said, "You go take care of the wedding plans, I'll pick up our parents and show them the town." I didn't even give this ridiculous idea a second thought.

"No."

"Why?"

"Do I need to explain this right now? My parents? Your mother? You?"

He didn't even flinch. "I'll do it," he said in the most reassuring voice possible. "I can do this. Trust me."

He was out the door before I could get in another word. I called my Mom to let her know there had been a change in plans. She sounded distraught. "He'll be there in a minute," I told her before hanging up the phone.

Wendy and I dropped all plans for a while and stopped to have a brunch. We sipped Mimosas while speculating on what was going on with the parents and the man we had by then dubbed, 'Super Chad.' We imagined arguments, awkwardness and frustration.

We hadn't counted on them having the one thing in common that was necessary for them to get along with each other: God. They apparently discussed God at length. Chad's mother laid out God's plan for Chad's life to my parents, while my mother regaled Chad's mother, Eleanor, with stories of my singing in church on Sundays when I was a girl. Chad sat there, head in hands, making the occasional sporting comment to my father, who seemed to be having a passing time, and whose only comment on any subject is usually, 'Huh? Yeah.'

The wedding took place at the Old Whaling Station, which is a historic building in Monterey. We had use of the entire house and garden (where we actually said our vows), and dressed in an upstairs room with a big comfortable four poster bed. Bottles of champagne were opened. Wendy slipped me several glasses while I was getting ready in the bathroom with my mother just down the hall. Eleanor was charming. She wore a bright fuchsia satin coat, with a matching hat that was pinned to her head. She had a polite manner, and Chad's smile.

She got along better with my mother, and seemed more comfortable around her than I was. My mother bungled and stuttered over several attempts at saying how proud she was of me, and what a special day it would be in my life. Finally, Mom gave me some earrings so I'd have something borrowed.

I'm sure had the rest of the stuff too, the blue, the old, the new. But a misty champagne haze had overcome me by that time, so all I remember is walking down the aisle, listening to an unrehearsed, and totally inappropriate tirade about the importance of a wife coming first in her husband's life. I think the minister actually looked over at Eleanor at one point to say, "It's time for you to move over. Someone else comes first in your son's life now."

On the day I married Chad, I had more love and respect for him than I had ever felt for anyone before. I think it was the way he stood up for me. The way he handled something that I would have surely bungled. It was seeing him in his Mother's smile. The way he looked at me in front of all our friends, like I was the only woman he would ever love. And the way he treated my parents, with warmth, and caring and respect, though he knew of every mean statement my mother had uttered about him. He said later, "Look at the person you are. I knew they couldn't be all bad."

Before my parents left to go back to Memphis, my mother told me that she looked out her hotel window the morning of the wedding, and watched my fiancee walking up the sidewalk. She turned to my father and said, "He sure is a brave man." Yes he is. And he also looks great in a tux.





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